Basic Knowledge of Carnatic Music

Carnatic music is confined to Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. In Carnatic music there is a very highly developed theoretical system. It is based upon a complex system of Rāgam (Rāga) and Thalam (Tala).

Most compositions in Carnatic music have three parts to their body.

  • The first two lines of the song are called Pallavi. They occur over and over, especially after each stanza.
  • Usually the Pallavi is followed by two more lines or sometimes just one more. This portion is called Anu Pallavi. This is sung at the beginning for sure, but sometimes even during the end of the song, but not necessarily after each stanza.
  • The stanzas of a song are called ‘Charanam’.

Purandardas (1480-1564) is considered to be the father of Carnatic music. To him goes the credit of codification of the method of Carnatic music. He is also credited with creation of several thousand songs. Another great name associated with Carnatic music is that of Venkat Mukhi Swami. He is regarded as the grand theorist of Carnatic music. He also developed “Melankara”, the system for classifying south Indian rāgas.

It was in the 18th century that Carnatic music acquired its present form. This was the period that saw the “trinity” of Carnatic music; Thyagaraja, Shama Shastri and Muthuswami Dikshitar compile their famous compositions.

  • Varnam: It is a composition usually sung or played at the beginning of a recital and reveals the general form of the Rāga. The Varnam is made up of two parts: 1) the Purvanga or first half and 2) the Uttaranga or second half. The two halves are almost equal in length.
  • Kriti: It is a highly evolved musical song set to a certain rāga and fixed tala or rhythmic cycle.
  • Rāgam: It is a melodic improvisation in free rhythm played without mridangam accompaniment.
  • Tanam: It is another style of melodic improvisation in free rhythm.
  • Pallavi: This is a short pre-composed melodic theme with words and set to one cycle of tala. Here the soloist improvises new melodies built around the word pallavi.
  • Trikalam: It is the section where the Pallavi is played in three tempi keeping the Tala constant.
  • Swara-Kalpana: It is the improvised section performed with the drummer in medium and fast speeds.
  • Rāgamalika: This is the final part of the Pallavi where the soloist improvises freely and comes back to the original theme at the end.

Comparison of Hindustani and Carnatic music

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